(Names have been changed to maintain privacy. Image is representational only)
Everything is fine, Shruti says. Everyone apart from Shruti’s husband is staying indoors in their home in a northern suburb of Mumbai. Shruti’s husband provides an essential service which keeps the city running in this crucial period, so he still goes to work every day. She is happy that the administration is providing him with a mask and gloves and sanitizer. Every evening when he comes home, he immediately goes for a bath and washes his clothes in hot water. All the things he carries with him are sanitized and kept in a plastic bag separately in the house.
A follow-up conversation takes place because Shruti couldn’t speak freely the first time.
She is exhausted. In the house she is the first to wake up and the last one to sleep. She is juggling her full-time job, family, and the many tasks that must be completed to keep a house running. Under normal circumstances, she would head out to work in the morning, and return by 8pm. On most evenings anyway. She’d do the cooking before she left, and she’d do part of the cooking again once she got back. From the time she would leave home until she’d come back, her mother-in-law would take care of her two kids.
Now, with the lockdown, Shruti is working from home. When the lockdown began it was the end of the month and her workload was absolutely crazy. Add to that a young child who doesn’t obey instructions to not run in and out of the house multiple times a day and a mother-in-law who believes Shruti is home on vacation. Things got out of hand and Shruti had a huge fight with her saas. Her in-laws, who in normal circumstances would complain about walking to the kids’ school are now finding excuses to go outside. They suddenly want to start going for a morning walk. When they come back from the market, they refuse to immediately go bathe and soak their clothes in hot water. They say, we haven’t gone sticking to someone, aise kya hota hai, aisa kuchh nahi hota. If we have to die, we’ll die anyway. Everyone in the house is annoyed.
There was a whole system in place in the house. A maid would come to wash the clothes, to do the dishes, another to make rotis. Now everything has gone topsy turvy. Her children sleep late, and as a result, so does Shruti. Then she can’t wake up early in the morning. Her husband makes his tea and breakfast and leaves for work. Her saas is not happy about this. She sees what is happening in the neighbours’ homes, something special is being cooked, the cleaning is already done. She gets irritated when she sees what’s happening in her own house in comparison.
Shruti ka dimaag bilkul hi kharaab ho gaya hai. She and her sister-in-law both work fulltime. While they work from home during the lockdown, they still have to put in the same 8-12 hours they’d put in at the office. Her saas is annoyed that Shruti spends so much time working. She says ye toh laptop chalu karke baithi rehti hai, isko kya farak padta hai ghar mein kya ho raha hai. Ye log ghar pe nahi rehti hein tab inke bachhon ko sambhalo, ab ye log ghar par hein fir bhi inke bachhon ko sambhalo. Shruti is so tired of this, if her office starts, even if she gets Corona, she will go to work.
The lockdown has badly hit her dewar and dewrani’s income. Shruti’s job, and her husband’s is what is getting the family a stable income. Coronavirus will go in a few months. Who will pay the fees after that? She has put her foot down. No one is going to call her for any work. Whatever has to be done will be done on Sunday. For the rest of the week, during the day it will be like Shruti is at her office. Thankfully, they have enough space, and the house is not cramped. She sits in a separate room to work, but her younger daughter keeps running in and out of the house, so aadha dhyaan us par jaata hai. Shruti doesn’t have a proper work desk at home, and her back which has been giving her issues ever since she had two c-section deliveries, is now in a bad state. Her husband has always helped her with housework, that has never been a problem. She has even put her dewar to work now. Shruti is clear that she and her sister in law are both working and earning, so if the men do housework, woh koi teer nahi maar rahe hein.
In general, the children are having a field day. Shruti is clear, let the kids do whatever they want, but keep them indoors. Her younger child is having a great time washing her hands several times and bathing thrice a day. Her kids don’t like it when she sits with them after her office work to make them study and one of them even hoped out loud, I hope meri mummy ka kaam jaldi khatm na ho.
Shruti’s workload has decreased in the last few days. She is now able to take breaks between work to attend to household tasks. But in this lockdown she isn’t getting any time for herself. To just sit and maybe read the newspaper. In the office they’d take a break between work, maybe step out for a bit. Shruti’s friend Aditi has also had a similar experience of the lockdown so far. She explains that when she is home, everyone has different expectations than usual. They ask if something special can be made for meals. Everyone at home helps, including the kids, that’s also true. And it’s nice to be able to spend time with family. But if 6 months down the line someone asks her about her experience of the lockdown, she’ll describe it as very hectic.
When Shruti was newly married, they didn’t have a maid. For many years she juggled home, work, and kids. And managed to get promotions at work along the way. Sometimes frictions would increase, but she stayed with her in-laws. Who bolte hein na, tedha hai par mera hai. After both her pregnancies, Shruti left her children with her saas when they were only a few months old and went back to work. Whatever she might say to Shruti, her saas has really taken care of her children. But the thing is, work from home is not time off, ye pyaar se samajh mein nahi aa raha hai, only by raising her voice is it understood. What can she say, jhagda bhi hota hai, pyaar bhi hota hai. Kabhi khushi, kabhi gham.
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